Prehearing Orders

March 26, 2014

Claimants who have hearings coming up should be reminded of an order from Debra Bice, the Chief Administrative Law Judge, dated April 16, 2012 which prevents administrative law judges from sending prehearing orders with mandatory requirements for items such as submission of evidence or prehearing orders which reference sanctions for failing to comply with the terms of the prehearing order.  ALJs have an independent duty to develop the record, which is inconsistent with mandatory requirements and threatened sanctions.  She terms these orders “improper”.

Social Security has instructions give priority in processing to the disability claims of veterans who have been awarded 100% permanent and total compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This appears to to refer only to “compensation” and does not seem to apply to veterans receiving the non-service connected pension from the VA. Interestingly those vets have also been found totally and permanently disabled by VA yet I think they are excluded under these instructions.

Social Security has published new instructions that allow the agency to process some Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims by individuals who are in a same-sex marriage. These instructions come in response to last year’s Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

SSI is a welfare-based program; the agency will now look at total household income and treat married same-sex couples the same as a married man and a woman.

SSA recently released an audit report from the Office of the Inspector General that reflects some interesting findings about representation at the initial level.  During the time frame audited (2010), SSA had a national allowance rate for initial claims of about 35%.  Initial claims were paid at a higher rate (40%) when a representative assisted in filing the claim and assisting SSA throughout the claim process.  This is unsurprising.

Claims with representatives took slightly longer to process (about 105 days) compared to those without representatives (92 days).  I expect this is due to the fact that representatives are working on cases, trying to pull together additional evidence, reviewing documents completed by claimants prior to submitting them and playing phone tag with SSA, DDS and claimants.

The auditors reached out to representative groups, who unilaterally stated that having electronic access to the claimants’ files would be helpful.  I agree.

%d bloggers like this: